Wednesday, July 25, 2012

The Things We Keep

We sat on uncomfortable chairs in the chill air of the Emergency Room waiting area -- my nephew, brother-in-law and me -- waiting to hear the test results on my father-in-law, who had stroke symptoms.  Time passes slowly when waiting, and we filled the long uncertainty with conversation.  We moved from topic to topic with the ease that comes with the familiarity of family.  Soon we were laughing about Dad's propensity for saving everything, and I admitted that I do the same.  Whether it be scraps of pretty ribbon or fabric, plastic containers, clothing or furniture, I tend to hang on to these things "in case I need them someday." 

Then the conversation turned to the things that we would never part with.  Of course, all of my little treasures are important to me.  However, if I had to move tomorrow, there are three pieces of furniture I would never leave behind.  They are an old dressing table which belonged to my mother -- worn and battered by time, my grandmother's hope chest -- also knicked and not tightly hinged, and my grandfather's desk.  Grandpa's desk is not an expensive heirloom.  It was made of cheap wood, with a drop down door which was used as a writing surface.  Several years ago my father-in-law refinished it and replaced the drawer pulls, so it is lovely to look at, but not of much value on the antique market.  When I sit at my mother's dressing table, my minds paints a picture of the young woman she was, brushing her dark hair and dabbing perfume on her wrists -- the epitome of womanhood to her chubby little daughter.  My grandmother's hope chest was at the foot of her bed, and each time I open it, with its essence of cedar, I feel again the secure feeling of snuggling into her ample lap when I needed reassurance. 

The memory of my grandfather's desk is one of a lesson learned.  Grandpa had a beautiful pen -- green and gold -- that he treasured, and kept securely in a tiny drawer in the top of the desk.  For some reason, one day I opened the desk and took the pen.  I was very little -- not even ready for school, and I have no idea why I hid his pen.  I do remember the heavy burden of guilt on my young soul.  The days dragged on as Grandpa mourned the loss of his pen, and I tried so hard to admit my sin.  Finally, the perfect moment came, and I gave the pen to my grandfather -- he was so happy to see it again, and, to my relief, forgave me immediately.  But, every time I look at my lovely old desk, I am reminded that guilt can consume us.

As my brother-in-law recounted the stories of the treasures he keeps, one in particular touched my heart.  He has kept his father's old battered workbench.  It now sits in his workshop -- its sturdy construction far exceeding that of today's "do-it-yourself" workbench kits.  But, its worth lies not in its bulk and strength, but in the memories it invokes.  There are cigarette burns from the times his father laid down a cigarette briefly while working; spatters of paint from years of projects create a kaleidoscope of reminiscences, and hammer marks invoke the sounds of his father's hammering together his numerous projects.  But, most important to my brother-in-law, is the memory of his father reaching down to pick him up when he was small and sit him on the workbench to watch -- a little boy beside his Dad, feeling secure and loved -- by far the most treasured memory.  This workbench is definitely a "keeper."